Although negative emotion can strengthen memory of an event it can also result in memory disturbances, as in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We examined the effects of negative item content on amygdalar and hippocampal function in memory for the items themselves and for the associations between them. During fMRI, we examined encoding and retrieval of paired associates made up of all four combinations of neutral and negative images. At test, participants were cued with an image and, if recognised, had to retrieve the associated (target) image. The presence of negative images increased item memory but reduced associative memory. At encoding, subsequent item recognition correlated with amygdala activity, while subsequent associative memory correlated with hippocampal activity. Hippocampal activity was reduced by the presence of negative images, during encoding and correct associative retrieval. In contrast, amygdala activity increased for correctly retrieved negative images, even when cued by a neutral image. Our findings support a dual representation account, whereby negative emotion up-regulates the amygdala to strengthen item memory but down-regulates the hippocampus to weaken associative representations. These results have implications for the development and treatment of clinical disorders in which diminished associations between emotional stimuli and their context contribute to negative symptoms, as in PTSD.
Keywords: amygdala; associative memory; hippocampus; item memory.
© The Author (2016). Published by Oxford University Press.